Former Farmington officer accused of attacking, abusing 11-year-old middle school student

The former officer resigned from department on Oct. 1

Joshua Kellogg
Farmington Daily Times
  • Zachary Christensen, 36, is accused of a third-degree felony count of child abuse and three petty misdemeanor counts of battery, according to the criminal complaint.
  • Steve Murphy, Christensen's attorney, told The Daily Times the New Mexico State Police conducted a very thorough investigation within two weeks of the incident and no criminal charges were filed.
  • An arraignment has been scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sept. 11 in Aztec District Court.

FARMINGTON — The former Farmington police officer who resigned last year after he was filmed by his own vest camera using force to restrain an 11-year-old girl has been charged with child abuse and battery.

Zachary Christensen, 36, is accused of a third-degree felony count of child abuse and three petty misdemeanor counts of battery, according to the criminal complaint.

The New Mexico Attorney General's Office on Aug. 26 announced the agency was charging Christensen with the alleged abuse and battery of a minor on Aug. 27, 2019, at Mesa View Middle School.

"We must uphold the law and ensure that New Mexico’s school children are protected, particularly those who are most vulnerable” New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a statement. “I will hold any individual accountable when they harm a child.”

More:Farmington officer resigns following use of force on 11-year-old student

Steve Murphy, Christensen's attorney, told The Daily Times the New Mexico State Police conducted a very thorough investigation within two weeks of the incident and no criminal charges were filed.

Murphy added the AG's Office was trying to grandstand and he is looking forward to a trial in this matter.

The AG's press release stated Christensen is seen in his body-camera video allegedly engaging in a physical altercation in front of Mesa View administrators, who are heard in the video verbally disapproving of the incident.

Farmington Municipal School District Superintendent Gene Schmidt said in a statement the district regrets the mistreatment of the middle school student by Christensen and will cooperate with the AG's Office in the case. 

"(Farmington schools) believes in providing a safe, supportive and collaborative culture for all students and staff and this unfortunate incident did not meet that aspiration," Schmidt said. "The district has worked with this student and family, as well as Farmington Police Department, to ensure that standard is met moving forward."

Christensen resigned from the Farmington Police Department on Oct. 1. He had been a school resource officer for four years when he resigned.

Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe previously told The Daily Times Christensen violated the department's policies for unsatisfactory performance and use of force.

This is a screen capture from a video of former Farmington Police Officer Zachary Christensen on Aug. 27, 2019, trying to detain an 11-year-old female student at Mesa View Middle School in Farmington. He was charged with child abuse and three counts of battery on Aug. 26, 2020.

Hebbe in an Aug. 26 statement to The Daily Times apologized for how the student was treated by Christensen.

"I sincerely apologize to her and her family for how she was treated," Hebbe said.

The department publicly posted the video footage from Christensen's body camera for the community to watch.

The graphic footage depicted Christensen's response to the reportedly disruptive female student near the entrance to the school.   

Christensen believed the student committed two instances of battery by striking a school official and shoving the hands of another official. Hebbe previously said those instances did not occur after watching the video.

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As the former officer tried to place the student into handcuffs, she resisted, which led to the two wrestling each other. Christensen at one point slams the student into a window.

She was diagnosed with a mild concussion along with some bruises and scrapes following the incident.

Christensen wasn't initially charged in the incident.

The New Mexico State Police conducted a criminal investigation into Christensen's actions and did not recommend criminal charges, according to The Daily Times archives.

The San Juan County District Attorney's Office said the former officer and the student were not facing criminal charges in October.

No criminal summons or arrest warrant has been issued in the case, according to court records.

An arraignment has been scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sept. 11 in Aztec District Court.

Joshua Kellogg covers breaking news for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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